December 26, 2011

This year's homemade gifts featuring Business Cat!

Yes, Blog, I am now at liberty to reveal this year's homemade Christmas gifts! Whereas last year I had not one, not two, but three posts on gifts, I apologize for not quite so much volume. But hopefully they will still amuse.

I worked in a couple of new media this year, the first being metal sculpture: this Camera Eye Robot that I made for daughter Katie. It all started with one of those, spot-in-a-shop, declare-"I-can-make-that" situations, Blog. I tracked down the tiny old Japanese camera on eBay, and built the robot from various random parts and scraps I'd amassed. He's a goofy little character with a hook for a hand and buttons from an old calculator, but I think he's pretty lovable. And for sure that itty bitty camera is awesome--it actually works, I guess, and is only 1 1/2" high.

Also new to me, and I think it shows, is the key holder I made for Katie's boyfriend Chris out of wood. These two are fans of retro design as it is especially expressed on Route 66 (see their website and Chris's new book at So I was going for "Googie" style--e.g., the famous Las Vegas sign--with this key holder. I bought a prefabricated plaque, then cut the parabolas and wedgie things out of balsa wood and glued them on. I stained the wood with watered-down acrylic paint and added edges and starbursts with Sharpie pen. I varnished it all and added screw in hooks. Not bad for a beginner I guess--and it would seem the height of modern to Fred Flintstone.

Time to move into a medium in which I'm more proficient: polymer clay. I also made Katie a Googie-style piece, a switchplate cover. I used a classic 50s palette, and this time threw in that old favorite, the kidney shape. It was fun trying to use a retro font for the lettering--sort of like on a neon sign--and I think it came out fairly well.

Clay-wise, I made a couple of other gifts this year that were really copied directly from other people's work, so I'm not going to show them off, even though they did turn out nicely. And I gave my hopefully-future-step-granddaughter all the stuff she needs to take up claying, so that will be very cool!

On to the needlecrafts....

Last year I made myself a felt camera case, and I'm flattered to say that pro photographer Chris kinda coveted one for his little "casual" camera ever since. So I got the measurements and made him one to fit, and here it is, Blog.
And the final, Really, Really Big Project required not only sewing, but a heck of a lot of Googling, brainstorming with myself, graphic work on the PC, and tedious cutting. In the end it was all worth it to give my husband Davie the gift of his dreams:  his own three-dimensional Business Cat.

Davie has been obsessed with this internet meme for a couple years now, to the point where--and I kid you not--he has been known to suddenly whisper "Business Cat" out loud for no apparent reason. So I simply had to find a way to make him one.

I was not about to try to make my own pattern for a stuffed cat that would look like the classic expressionless, round-eyed, all-black critter that is B.C. So I combed the internet and looked at every single black-furred feline available for purchase in the known world. The closest thing to the right look, sadly, was a tuxedo cat. So I actually had to dye his white parts black with copious amounts of fabric dye.

It wasn't too hard to design and make a white collar of cotton fabric. Even the tie wasn't difficult, although I put the plaid on the yellow fabric with felt-tip pens. No, the killer here was how to display the thing, in order to incorporate the hilarious captions that are Business Cat's claim to fame.  Like these to the right:

You don't even want to know the ideas I came up with and rejected before the ultimate solution came to me. Business Cat is displayed in an acrylic box made to house a mini replica football helmet, but tipped up on one end. The box "bottom" perfectly holds the caption sheets...25 of which I made to include in the B.C. set. Yes, I made 25 designs (did you know the classic font is Impact, which comes installed with Windows?), printed and trimmed them, and cut out all the openings with an Exacto knife while chatting with my visiting mother-in-law. Thanks heavens she was there to keep me sane.

Add printed backdrop and tie on nifty original tag, and MEOW, I mean VOILA: Davie has a pet Business Cat! Sing it to the tune of "I Want a Hippopotamus," people:

I want a 3D Business Cat for Christmas,
Only a 3D Business Cat will do!
Don't want a Honey Badger, or critter by Chuck Testa,
I only want a Business Cat 'cuz that meme is the besta,
And 3D Business Cat, he likes me too!

So, from the land of Christmas Crafting, Blog and I say "Merry Christmas to all and to all a Super Fantasgreat New Year!"

December 6, 2011


Can you believe I've been away six weeks, Blog? Scandalous. I cannot hope to excuse THAT kind of absence, but for lack of anything better to post about, here's my feeble accounting for my long-term silence:

1. You know you can always count on my sharing my crafts, but everything I've been doing all this time is in the Top Secret No Reveal Till After Christmas category. If it helps you to deal with the suspense, here are some tiny hints:

--some of the stuff involves containers, some empty, some not
--some could be used as a weapon, or not
--there's pink

2.  I also know I like to talk about my writing, but I'm still on my long-term authoring hiatus. I did get to do the editing of this book though.  The writing is real nice, I can't wait to see the pictures!

3.  You have in the past enjoyed my sharing about my random nocturnal fantasies, but the storylines of those have been a bit thin lately.  But if you insist on knowing, there have been two I alternate between.

--The one in which I live in a little Jewish village in the early 20th century, have a crush on the town doctor, and get a job as his assistant. This makes more sense if you know that in real life I have a doctor who is Jewish and he's completely awesome.

--The one in which I am hired to do online research for the team of Mr. Finch and Mr. Reese of the show "Person of Interest." Because I really can't help being attracted to Michael Emerson regardless of the role he plays. (Yeah, and my husband meanwhile has a man-crush on Jim Caviezel, so we make quite the pair.)

4. There is an unbelievable quantity of great TV on right now that is simply too good to miss. I watch about 25 shows faithfully right now. Plus some football and hockey. Plus the occasional holiday special and/or "Income Property" rerun. Yes, that was 25 shows. And I'm picky, people--I cut out the shows that are just "good." Anyone who gripes that there's nothing on the Boob Tube these days needs to take another's become just insane. And "Alcatraz" hasn't even started yet.

5. I've been getting too many kicks out of Facebook. It's so easy to share the thrilling stuff in my life there, I just don't get around to putting it here, Blog! Stuff like

--the fabulous drinks I've been making out of the Magic House bar
--video of our newest collectible snowman, "Spaceman" (pronounced "spa-CHAY-man" of course)
--pictures of my cats, oh heck, I'll show you one too, Blog

So I'm sure it's clear why I haven't been posting. If not, I'll spell it out for you, Blog:  L...A...Z...Y.  Perhaps I will do better in the new year.  At least you know after December 25 you'll be seeing some crafts here, including the pink part.

Can't you wait?  Till then, have some happy holidays!

October 24, 2011


Hey Blog, while I've been away the U.S. has entered into full-scale class warfare...well, ideologically anyway--so far no gunfire. I speak of course of the Occupy Wall Street movement, not to be confused with the Porcupy Wall Street movement, which involves porcupines.

I totally understand the OWSers fury at government bailouts, giant bonuses for CEOs, and legislative decision-making based on corporate political donations. That stuff makes me as sick as the next person. There is a lot of graft and corruption in government fueled by corporate interests (among other fuels)--I get it. Some small percentage of Americans (1% or whatever) calls the shots for the rest of us in many ways, and that's not fair. I left my last job largely because I was tired of working for rich white guys with briefcases full of venture capital and memberships in private clubs catering to rich white guys.

But I'm afraid I'm not digging a lot of this Occupy stuff. It's all WAY too black-and-white for me, and that is never good. The they/us dichotomy worries me. Just when does political fervor cross the line into a new kind of bigotry?

Blog, here's a few of the things about OWS that bother me:

1.  The idea that all millionaires/CEOs/rich capitalists are evil. I happen to know several of these and they are actually nice people. For example, some family members and the guy who pays my salary. Now perhaps there's a higher percentage of bad rich people, based on the adage "power corrupts," but countering that is the fact that rich people aren't driven to desperate acts by poverty, like a large percentage of criminals are. Long story short, there is good and bad in everyone.  Except Mother Theresa and Hitler, I guess.

2. The belief that corporate America should be hated. I say, feel free to hate the bad things corporate America does from time to time. But remember some of those same things are the reason you can afford that fancy smartphone, and don't point fingers till you're willing to give it up. You can't have it both ways, and good luck refusing to own anything produced by corporate America. I adore the idea of shopping locally and supporting small business, but you can bet some of the tools and services those cozy companies use are provided by big corporate entities. We're all too interconnected to declare full scale war on each other.

3. The sense of entitlement. This is my biggest beef. Nowadays too many people have the habit of declaring anything they want is "a basic human right." I kind of prefer limiting it to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"...and the pursuit sometimes involves work and smart choices, contrary to popular belief. For example, this is the first generation to have decided society owes them a college education. That's always been something you chose to pay for, maybe even (what a concept!) SAVE for, or not, depending upon your circumstance. I say, if the taxpayers are supposed to pay your tuition, how is that fair to the generations of people who came before and sacrificed for their degrees? If you demand now that those people pay for your higher education as well as their own, who's the good guy and who's the bad guy in that scenario?

4. The disdain for free market capitalism. Heck, Blog, the system that has thrived in America for centuries is now on the "out list," apparently. In its place, we're asked to redistribute our wealth willy-nilly. (Of course, it's the prosperity-challenged who want this. I'm not sure how they'd feel if they suddenly inherited a million bucks and were told they had to give most of it away.) I still don't understand what motivation anyone in the U.S. would have to work, if we put such plans into place. If society is going to pay off your debt, guarantee you a paycheck even if you don't have a job, etc., why wouldn't we all stay home and watch TV?

And what would happen if all these "dreams" came true? This is what I envision:

1. Stripped of capital, America's companies reduce payroll (oh boy, 2009 again), increase prices, and cut back on innovation.

2. Forced to cancel all collection of student loan payments and write off the debt, the U.S. government must cut back on programs and/or raise taxes.

3. With the ability to receive adequate income without working, the rising number of the unemployed stay home, reducing the government's tax revenues still further and forcing corporations to outsource more jobs overseas. Productivity suffers.

4. The impact on the housing market caused by the mandatory write-off of defaulted mortgages is chaos. Banks' balance sheets are thrown out of kilter, there's reduced money available to lend, so only the richest can get new mortgages. Meanwhile some people make a killing selling homes the were previously mortgaged to the hilt.

Bottom line, Blog: economic and social chaos. Which is what comes of tampering with the normal order of things, commerce-wise. If we hate government bailouts of banks, why should we love government bailouts of anything else? Bailing out college grads or homeowners may seem "nicer" than bailing out rich bankers, but it gets you in just as much trouble as a society.

A lot of things need to be fixed, Blog. And here's my list of a few I can think of that we could do:

1. Simplify the tax code so the ultra-rich can't weasel their way out of paying their fair share. That will get us a lot further than raising their taxes only to have them find the usual loopholes anyway.

2. Make government smaller. (Remember "power corrupts"?) How about limited terms, campaign finance reform, and some other such remedies?

3. Fix the broken parts of the system that failed to regulate the financial industry as they should have.

4. Pass reasonable legislation to prevent management bonuses for companies that receive any government support, to limit credit card interest rates and unreasonable fee systems, and similarly curtail gross abuses.

5. Mandate financial studies classes in public high schools, to teach kids practical lessons about credit card debt, student loans, budgeting and saving. (Better their parents should do this, but it seems they've largely dropped the ball and made as big of mistakes as their kids!)

6. Rethink the idea that you have to have a four year college degree right after high school to be a success in the world today. Encourage technical schools, apprenticeship programs, and other worthwhile options for building a skilled workforce...and thus motivate colleges to get their tuition costs under control in order to compete for students.

And above all, Blog: Everyone stop thinking in black and white! Regardless of politics, religion, race, or economic status, we are all people, good and bad. Egg the house of a millionaire and you may have caused trouble for a guy who just gave fifty grand to a school for autistic kids, or whose company is actually responsible for you having a job. Sure, he could be a "greedy capitalist pig," but you don't know, just like you don't know if the OWS protester next to you is a genuine compatriot or simply hoping to steal your cell phone while you're distracted with chanting.

We've got a crapload of things to fix in this country, and wasting our energy on "them vs. us" is getting us nowhere. The government and corporate America know we're pissed, already! Better to leave the park, go home and vote, write letters, teach your kid about compound interest, buy goods responsibly, and get informed about economics, the practices of companies in which you own stock, and the positions of your elected officials.

We're only going to win this by working it out bit by bit. And doing it, as much as possible, together.

October 10, 2011

What I did with the f'opal wreckage

Hey Blog and readers, you recall my post about how I made f'opals (faux opals), and you recall how I ended up with some crazy bits and pieces of crystalline awesomeness also known as f'opal wreckage, right? Right! Well,
I tucked that stuff in a baggie and saved it, because I already knew how I was going to use it in future.

You see, some weeks back I came upon pretty much the coolest idea for faux rocks I've ever seen. Like, drop your jaw and have roll away under the couch awesome. It was a sandstone and opal combo devised by a polymer artist called Randee Ketzel. I didn't know how she made them (and still don't, but she does sell a tutorial I believe), but I was determined to try to make my own. And as you can see here, I did!

So, for any of you who braved your way through my f'opal tutorial, or otherwise have devised a method to create twinkly crystally stuff that would work in this sort of rock, here's what you need to make it happen:


  • some faux opal chunks or other crystalline polymer clay fauxness
  • white granite polyclay (like Premo Sculpey white granite, which I used)
  • tan/ivory polyclay
  • teensy weensy seashells
  • large embroidery needles, knitting needle, or other pointy tools
  • beading hole wires
  • brown acrylic paint
  • Future floor polish


Blend a smidge of tan clay into the granite clay to create a color that is off-white. Roll it out into a thick sheet of clay.


Take a chunk or two of crystals and wrap them in some sandstone clay. Make an irregular stone-like shape, leaving the crystals peeking out. Make sure the part of the stone that will have the threading hole doesn't have the pathway blocked by the crystal(s).

Use the tiny seashells to create fossil-like markings all over the stone, including the back. Then use two or three sizes of needles or pointed tools to create pits in random groupings and patterns over the stone.

Insert any wires through the rock for threading later. (You can drill holes if you prefer, but because of the rough surface of these rocks, you don't need a neat, smooth hole and can do it this easier way instead.)

Bake per your clay directions (I did 25 minutes at 260 degrees).


Mix a warm, golden brown color of acrylic paint and water it down just a bit. It should be thin in consistency but still opaque.

After cooling your rock and removing any wires, paint it one area at a time with the paint, and then rub off the paint immediately with a clean cloth or paper towel. You'll get the hang of removing most of the color from the surface while leaving paint in the little fossil marks and pits to accentuate them. Try not to get paint on the crystals.

Carefully give the crystals two coats of Future to make them extra shiny.

Your sandstone and f'opals are ready to string! I made this fun set of necklace and earrings, which I am in fact wearing even as I type! As Blog here would know, if he weren't just an anthropomorphized non-corporeal being without actual eyes. I love these rocks and am eternally grateful to Randee for having come up with such a fabulous idea. Yay Randee! Yay clay!

September 25, 2011

The new Facebook Timeline will be so cool--here's why

Blog, it's been like a soap opera on Facebook this week...

  • Will the new "news ticker" drive us all into going postal?
  • What "huge change" is coming this week that will "revolutionize the Facebook experience?
  • Will our friends flee to Google+?
  • Will the FB versus + question accelerate into a battle that rivals PC versus Mac?
  • And what about Naomi?

People do panic about change, Blog...which I find interesting because dealing with change is, by now, a part of everyday life. Be that as it may, change can be good or bad, and we'll never all agree on which one. My personal opinion is that I'm going to love the new Facebook Timeline, and for what it's worth, here's why.

[The Timeline feature launches automatically the end of this week...I got a jump on it by following this easy tutorial.]

The Timeline turns your past record on Facebook into a sort of digital scrapbook. Your profile page becomes a two-column, magazine-style illustrated narrative. It does this automatically. You can tweak it, but you don't have to put more than five minutes' effort into it if you don't want to. For example, I created a new image for the "cover" picture. The profile looks like the image above right, Blog--or did at that time.

The little do-hickey at the upper right lets you pinpoint anytime since you were born. And key events, like family members' births and your graduation year, are already on the Timeline based on information you and those users already put in Facebook. You can add photos (I put in baby and high school graduation photos of myself) and "life events" as you see fit.

You can also delete anything you choose from the Timeline if it's lame, boring, or embarrassing. The post stays in the database but disappears from the Timeline. It's just another way to make it into the "scrapbook" you want it to be.

I discovered, looking at my Timeline, that it seems I accidentally have been the kind of Facebook user who will doubtless benefit most from this feature. I post a lot of photos and videos, and chronicle fun and interesting events both personal and pop culture. Text-heavy posters may not find the Timeline so exciting, but many of us will really enjoy just perusing past weeks. I did, and it made me laugh and smile and generally feel fortunate to have my life, home, family and friends.

So, as for how I'm finding this changes my outlook as a Facebook user: Already yesterday I found myself thinking in terms of how best to chronicle the day and capture the mood. So, when I decorated the house for fall, I made sure to post some pics. I might have done this anyway, but I was even more motivated knowing I could eventually be looking back at the day from years in the future.

Blog, there's nothing truer than the old adage, "You can't please all of the people all of the time." I know some Facebook users will hate the new features, some will gripe at first but learn to live with them, most will roll with the changes without too much fuss. But some of us are really, really going to like the Timeline and it will actually enhance our lives a bit.

September 19, 2011

How to make f'opals (faux opals)

Blog, I find it fascinating that lately we're getting thousands of visitors to the post we did about crazy homecoming mums, when I've never even made crazy homecoming mums. I have, however, made my own brand of faux opals which (thanks to my uberpal Martha's idea) I call f'opals. Why look, here's a f'opal I made now--check it out!

Our readers can make f'opals just like this, Blog! That is, of course, if they have the required items on this Required Items List:


  • translucent polymer clay (and the usual tools/equipment for working with same)
  • opal colors of clay, in metallic or pearl varieties (I used blue and green; peach, yellow, pink and purple would be good too)
  • Perfect Pearls metallic powder in opal colors (see above)
  • iridescent glitter
  • Dremel tool
  • bits for rough sanding, finer sanding, polishing and drilling
  • Future floor polish
  • Optional--iridescent or opal colors of thin foil


The general thing about making f'opals, Blog, is that you are trying to recreate the random, translucent, crystalline aspects of an opal. So start by making yourself some globs of translucent clay tinted into pastels, by mixing a bit of metallic or pearl color clay with translucent. Don't mix it too much...go for swirly.

When you have two to five colors, roll them into ropes of varying thickness. Then combine the ropes by twisting and smooching to produce a random, only slightly mixed ball of the various colors.

Get out your Perfect Pearls powders of choice, as well as your iridescent glitter. You can also prepare some tiny teeny snippets of foil if you want, but make them teeny. You can also take some metallic colored clay, roll it out very thin, and chop it into tiny bits...but remember if it is dark colored, you will get an effect not totally opalescent (but still interesting).


Slice the multi-tinted ball of clay into thin layers. Take a layer and paint with some daubs of Perfect Pearls, or sprinkle with some glitter, or top with a piece or two or three of foil or clay fragment. Top with another layer, and repeat. Continue in said fashion, going for random and multicolored.

When you've stacked and festooned all the layers, press together and form into a spheroid shape. Twisting a little is fine--just make sure all the layers are pressed together firmly.

Cut your f'opalescent glob into any number of smaller globs, the approximate size you want the ultimate f'opals to be. Gently roll each piece into a sphere.

Roll some plain translucent clay into the thinnest possible layer. Cover each sphere with this clay and then round into a ball again and make sure any seams are smoothed out.

Bake as usual for the type and size of clay (I did 20 minutes at 270 degrees).


So, Blog, up until this point my technique was not really different from other people's you can read about in online tutorials. But at this point things took a hard left turn onto Freaky Street.

In the oven, all my f'opals cracked. For whatever reason, the outer shells cracked and half came off, and some of the inner parts cracked as well. As it turned out, though, I think this is what made my technique end up to be really cool.

You will want to prepare a big bowl of ice water and set it near the stove. When it's time to remove the f'opal wreckage from the oven, dump everything at once into the ice water. This is what makes the clay go as clear as possible.

Now it may well be (highly likely, I'd say) that your f'opals don't crack in the oven. Not to worry. When they are cool, just dry them off. Lay some paper on a hard surface like your concrete basement floor, put on eye protection, and smack those suckers with a hammer. Gather up the resulting f'opal wreckage (some small pieces, some tiny) in a small plastic bag and you're good to go back to your claying area for the next step.


The little bits of f'opal wreckage have all kinds of fun crystal-like qualities. Choose a piece or two that you especially like, and then coat them once again with plain translucent clay and roll the result into a ball. If you can't exactly get a smooth ball, that's okay--you don't need to.

Re-bake, and re-plunge into fresh ice water. Your new and this-time-for-real faux opals will look like what you see in the photo.


Time to literally crank that Dremel tool, Blog. Don your mask and eye protection, and a smock or old clothes. Start with the rough sanding bit in your Dremel. Take a baked, cooled, dry f'opal.

Use the Dremel to sand, with two goals in mind: to shape the f'opal into its desired ultimate shape, and to expose some pretty areas. Under the plain outer shell, underneath you'll find really interesting colors and patterns and sparklies. The color, intensity, and shine of these will increase with the later steps. It's like digging for buried treasure!

When you have the basic shape you want, switch to the fine sanding bit and make the f'opal smoother all over.

Lastly, switch to the buffing bit and buff the heck out of that little guy. No doubt it will fly out of your hand a bunch of times (and shoot under the most cobwebby shelving in your basement, possibly), so keep a good grip if you can. Don't stop until it seems almost perfect.

Wash any dust off, dry, and get out the Future and a small paintbrush. Give the f'opal two coats of Future (one side at a time, so that's four steps total), allowing 20-30 minutes drying time in between coats. Now it will gleam just like a real opal!

Drill a hole through the f'opal if you wish to string it, and you're done! So here's the choker necklace I made with a few of my batch of f'opals...

Blog, I've wanted to make my own opals for a very long time...they are my favorite semi-precious stone. Now I have the next best thing at a fraction of the cost. That mother-of-all-f'opals focal-f'opal is my pride and joy!

September 6, 2011

The secret garden that I built

Our story begins, Blog and dear readers, three weeks ago when Davie, my uberpal Martha, and I traveled to Cedarburg, Wis. to dine and shop. While exploring the clearance tables inside the Settlement Shops, I came upon a plaque with a crazy, fancy doorknob affixed thereto.

Something about this doorknob, aside from the greatly discounted price of $15, attracted me.

I went back to look at it twice, and the situation brought to my mind the old adage, "No matter how fancy, a doorknob is only good if you have some use for it." Well, there is no such adage, but it's still true. I knew I should only get the doorknob if I had a purpose for it. It was fastened to the plaque with a bolt, washer and nut, easy enough to remove. But then what?
On my third stop at the clearance table, all at once, I had a vision... I told my companions, "I'm going to get this doorknob. I know what to do with it, and it's going to be awesome."

And, as you can see, it is. I call this shadow box "The Secret Garden."

In fact, this summer I read the book The Secret Garden and thought it was fascinating. There's something enchanting about the concept of a hidden place where beautiful things grow. Perhaps the book was bobbing around in my subconcious as I stared at the bargain table. For in my mind's eye I saw that doorknob floating in space, as such a magical looking doorknob would, and beyond it a mystical, lovely place...yes, why not a garden? And that idea turned into a shadow box, with the doorknob mounted right on the glass, and little plants and treasures within. I could do it....

As it turned out, Blog, I did do it, largely with items I had on hand at home.  All I needed was the frame (bought on sale at Michaels for $11) and some silk and plastic plants (another $15 at Michaels on sale, with tons of leftovers). There was only one hitch:

I was really worried about drilling a hole in a piece of glass.  Especially unremovable glass, which if cracked would cost me the entire frame.

I researched like crazy how to drill though glass. I even watched videos. The trick was to build a little ring of clay (of which, as you know, Blog, I have tons) around the drilling spot and fill it with water. And to use a diamond bit in your Dremel tool (check and check). And to go very slowly. It all went off like a charm...I had a perfect hole in my glass!

So, it's fairly obvious where I went from there:  Screwing on the doorknob, filling my shadow box with plants, moss, faux grass and polymer clay rocks for a path, and driftwood, all held in place with styrofoam, wire, electrical tape, and fabric glue. (The box is a couple inches deep; you can't see the little incline at the bottom, but the stone path really goes uphill.) I hung the secret key to the secret garden with a tiny ribbon from the foliage. Ta-da.....?

But wait--there's more!

Look inside the keyhole...look close...closer....what do you see?

Inside there is a tiny garden, with a path continuing on, and trees and plants!

What's the secret to the secret garden in my secret garden? I found a perfect photo of a garden path, reduced it to the proper size, printed it, and mounted in the shadow box behind the keyhole.

Meanwhile, I took apart one of those LED votive candles to expose the little light bulb, and strategically mounted it to light the photo without showing (no easy feat). The candle creates just enough light, with a mysterious flicker. By daylight, you can see the picture okay even without the lamp on.

I do believe, at least according to my Web searches, that this Secret Garden Shadow Box is the first of its kind.

And that, my friends, is what I saw in my head that told me to go ahead and buy the doorknob.

September 5, 2011

10 Random Facts Which Are, In Fact, About Me

So, Blog, at the kind invitation of my friend Tameri Etherton, today I am participating in a Ten Random Facts About Me blog thingy. I would have been happy to post Ten Random Facts about You, Blog, if the list was that long. But really, there's not too much we know about you except:

1. You are a disembodied anthropomophized being.

2. You are gender-neutral with a masculine vibe.

3. You occasionally like to interview other anthropomophized beings like our cookie jar, Professor Snowcaps.

And that's about it.

So while I may not be as fascinating as, say, Ashton Kutcher or one of those Jersey Shore peeps, at least we can come up with Ten Random Facts about me, Blog. So tally ho!

1. I can do ecclesiasical embroidery.

2. From 1998 to 2002 I published a weekly ezine called "Hockey Snacks." (Remember those? Today we call it blogging.) It consisted of original humor about the NHL and was hosted by Shinny, aka my right index finger wearing a miniature goalie mask.

3. When I was in the fourth grade I wrote and directed a musical puppet show called "Soggy Wheat." I am truly not making this made sense at the time.

4. When I was in my 30s I taught myself a couple years of piano and composed a theme-and-variations piece for pipe organ which was performed publically (although not by me, because I didn't know how to play the pipe organ).

5. My first celebrity crush was on Michael Rennie as Klaatu in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." That movie was made in 1951 so that gives you a hint how ancient I am. My latest celebrity crush is Christian Kane who plays Eliot Spencer on "Leverage." The only thing they have in common is the ability to kill people at will. I can only speculate on the psychology happening here.

6. I maintain a biligual biographical website about the French Canadian hockey star Guy Carbonneau, which is currently at 316 pages of material. I've talked about it on Quebec radio and TV, in French, even though I am terrible at speaking French and was terrified.

7. I love to make things. The smallest thing I have ever made--it was out of polymer clay--is the blue bird from Angry Birds. For scale, this is my cat Selke with all the Angry Birds.

8. When I was in junior high I mixed cream cheese with green food coloring, made it into balls dusted with cracker crumbs, called them "Moon Marbles" and brought them to my social studies class (which also made sense at the time...sort of). Everyone agreed they were disgusting.

9. When my husband and I were first dating, we invented a sort of death-metal rock band called "Ham Carving." We thought up all the members and their histories, the names of their albums, song lyrics, etc. It was a poor man's Spinal Tap, but we liked our band.

10. I am pretty obsessed with LOL cats and cat videos. Okay, totally obsessed to the point of pathology. I have not succeeded in making a funny cat video of my own yet but I did make this just sort of nice one.

And that, Blog and dear readers, is as the kids say "all I got." Again, I never promised you Ashton Kutcher...and thanks for reading.

August 23, 2011

How to have a Birthday Week

Dear heavens, Blog, where have I been? I know, I know, my remissness blog-wise is inexcusable. But the excuse I can give for the past week is that I've been having a Birthday Week (currently on Day 7). And what more festive activity for Day 7 of my Birthday Week than to tell our readers how to have a Birthday Week!

Great decorating job, co-workers!
The foundation of a BW is your birthday itself, natch. Odds are in the busy and complex world of 2011, you are unable to celebrate the day with all your family and friends on the same day. Maybe you and the significant other are planning a romantic dinner, while your parents are hosting you a different day, etc. In my case this year, I had a fun lunch get-together planned with my dad on my birthday itself, a Thursday. Meanwhile, the dinner with husband, daughters, and daughters' BFs was planned for Saturday. So, take these occasions and build your BW around them!

Now, add to the mix any fun activities that happen to be scheduled during the adjacent week. I, for example, had a massage appointment set up for Tuesday. I haven't had a massage in like 10 years, so this definitely qualifies as a special occasion that makes my Tuesday a festive BW day. Maybe your activity is less thrilling, like grocery shopping day, but that doesn't mean you can't make it festive. In that case, you might splurge on a bunch of your favorite entrees, drinks, snacks, or know, Blog, make it your dream food shopping spree!

It's the Domes Art Fair!
Another factor that will help you is the scientific fact that every week includes a weekend. And weekends tends to be opportunities for special activities. See what's happening in your town and make it a BW activity. For example, in Milwaukee this was the weekend for the 2nd Annual Domes Art Fair, at which my daughter Katie's boyfriend happened to have a booth. How exciting! And anything exciting is BW fodder, Blog. The early kickoff on Friday meant a checkmark by that day for me.

Taking advantage of fun adventures you always enjoy definitely counts, so Saturday I took a groovy trip to the Milwaukee Art Museum (yep, Saturday was double festive!), and Sunday went to lunch and shopping in lovely downtown Cedarburg.

"The 500 Fingers of Dr. T" rocks.
Sadly, you will still have some weekdays to fill, and at least one will require creative thinking. If your office observes birthdays with treats, bringing in doughnuts, cake or cookies certainly adds a celebratory air to your random Wednesday. And remember, you can have festive fun even in the evening in your humble home. Wednesday evening it was a fab French Silk Sundae from Kopps (an annual treat) and a beloved movie I hadn't seen in 40 years, "Dr. Seuss's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T." It's a party!

Here's a little tip: Sometimes it can be fun to NOT plan a BW activity and just be on the lookout all day for some happy surprise the universe sends your way. In my case, my blank Monday was made festive when my coworkers surprised me by decorating my office while I was out having a long weekend. Sweet! And it made for a complete seven-day extravaganza of fun.

A couple more suggestions: Birthdays are yet another reason to join Facebook. It's so fun getting greetings all day from your friends all over the world. You don't have to thank each one individually, but I find that doing so just makes each gesture more meaningful. It's a cyberparty all day! Meanwhile, if you can line up your BW with some several-day fun time, like a trip or a visit, that week will rock all the more. I was lucky that my uber-friend Martha stayed with us four fun days.

And that's all there is to it! The added benefit of observing a Birthday Week is that it will teach you to look for fun wherever you are and whatever you do, Blog. It's amazing how having a party attitude makes party feelings materialize on the most ordinary days! And that's a bonus b-day present for sure.

August 4, 2011

Maybe not your view of Facebook, but--

Blog, I know you keep dropping hints about getting your own Facebook page, but you know the rules: no disembodied anthropomorphic beings allowed. There aren't a ton of rules about Facebook, but there are some.

Meanwhile, there's really no rule about how a person looks at the role of Facebook in their lives, and I'm not here to tell anyone what that role should be for them. However, I feel like talking about how I look at it for me. Which of course may not matter to our readers, or even to you, Blog.

But it's my blog and I'll pontificate if I want to.

Today I got a friend request from a stranger. I do put out there in the cyberverse that people who are fans of my writing are welcome to friend me on Facebook, so sometimes that happens. Typically the person then introduces him-/herself with some nice words of appreciation. What's not to like? Other times, I get a request from a friend of a friend who has perhaps read my comments on that friend's status and would like to know me better and vice versa. Also very cool.

But this was one of those strangers who is a Networker. If you, dear reader, are a part of any sort of category, like I am a part of the authors of the world, you know whereof I speak. "Networkers" on Facebook are those who love to accumulate hoards of "friends" with that one thing in common, in my case, writing. I can appreciate the networking functionality of Facebook, although I'd prefer people keep that stuff to LinkedIn, which is really designed for professional networking. But hey, it's okay.

However, sometimes what Networkers are really trying to build on Facebook is a place for self-promotion, and only for self-promotion. Before you throw that pot/kettle/black thing at me, Blog, I won't deny that I sometimes bring up my books on Facebook. But I try to do it sparingly and in ways I would comfortably do at a party with my "real life" friends. Different story for the Facebook page for Aggie's Nine Heroes, since it's fan page and people know that going in. Many of my friends occasionally self-promote, and I'm cool with that's reasonably proportional.

So back to our story. By Facebook's list of our mutual friends, I could see this stranger who sent the friend request was a writing networker. Typically when I get these, I'll accept, and then I'll give the person a week or two of posting. Oftentimes I really like them as a person and thus make a new friend. Othertimes less so, and then I block them. Yes, I admit it, that's what I do.

However, today's stranger was different. I accepted her request and then, as is my practice, checked out her wall. She was an author, all right. But what I found was 75% postings of political nature--links to articles, diatribes, etc. And as it happens these were not of my particular political bent. Result: immediate unfriend.

This is not to say I vehemently dislike anyone whose political views differ from mine; that's true of many of my dearest, oldest friends (and also my dad). What I vehemently dislike, frankly, is the behavior of posting endless political diatribes to one's friends on Facebook. It's a free country, do it if you like, but I don't have to read it. To me it seems like complete disrespect for those friends you have who disagree with you.

Whatever happened to the adage that, when in social groups, one ought not discuss religion or politics?

At any rate, clearly this person knew nothing at all about me and didn't really care to. And this leads to my problem with Facebook Networkers in general. Facebook is supposed to be for friends, people who either know each other or have a commonality that could genuinely lead to friendship, like I do with fans of my writing. When I accept a friend request and then see on his/her wall "Joan Blow is now friends with Diana Laurence and 17 other people," I'm tempted to unfriend or block right there.

What you are doing is very likely simply adding me to your promotional pool. Unless you truly use Facebook to share yourself, your interests and activities, and to engage with mine, you're not using the medium the way I do. I fear your ensuing status updates will be a steady stream like this:

Joan Blow Tell me what you think of my awesome new book cover!

Joan Blow I just added Pizza Bend, WY to my book tour--hope to see you there!

Joan Blow I just can't decide which guy in my new novel the Werewolf Alley series is the hottest. But then, it will be hard to top Tristan O'Donahue from the last one, or at least that's what my fans say!

Which, while better than a string of political diatribes, does not strike me as the best use of Facebook. But that's just me. (Of course if it's also you, you can click the Right On Box below.)

P.S., there is a real Joan Blow on Facebook. I really didn't mean her, I'm sure she's super nice.

July 11, 2011

My Angry Birdcage

I play Angry Birds almost every day, and what of it, Blog? I will not go to rehab, no, no, no. In fact, I was determined to celebrate my addiction with some sort of appropriate craft project. Angry Birdcage.

Obviously polymer clay was the medium of choice for making some Angry Birds, so I thought about what best to do with some Bird sculptures. I considered jewelry with Bird beads, but worried that their little crest and tail feathers might break off. To keep the bitty creatures safe, what better solution than a cage? Of course, that would require a cage in the proper scale...

Optimistically, while out on a walk with Davie, I scored a nice fallen branchlet to use for perches in my cage. And then Saturday, while shopping the 99% useless and pretty scary Everything Must Go sale at our local closing World Market, what should I find but a perfect cage for six bucks! Kismet.

So I modeled my birds to the scale of the cage, which I won't deny was a bit of a challenge, Blog. Itty bitty beaks, itty bitty tails, and almost invisibly small eye pupils, oh my. And that Blue Bird? Kinda maddening to sculpt.

Our cat Selke will demonstrate the size we are talking about here. Keep in mind she is a very small cat.

The Red Angry Bird looked nervous as well as angry. Even after he was joined by his brethren, he appeared quite on the verse of swooning. Life would be safer in a cat-proof cage.

And so I installed my twigs in the cage, lining the bottom with some moss. I mounted the Birds with Fabric Glue, which I have to tell you is awesome for an application like this. It acts as if you are creating tiny, gripping rubber bands on the fly, that can be moved around a bit to secure Bird to branch. Thank heavens for that was a real pain (ship in a bottle variety) arranging those Birds.

Quite a fine habitat if I do say so myself, and the Birds seemed pleased as well as angry.  Green Boomerang Bird looks elated, and Black Bomb Bird looks thrilled, don't you agree, Blog? I mean, as well as angry?

And here are Blue Splitting-into-Three-Birds Bird, White Egg-Dropping Bird, and Yellow Zipping Bird, getting their party on.

You'll be glad to know we have the perfect spot for this cage to hang, in the faux tree o' lights in the living room. Check out how totally awesome it looks at night, like an Angry Birdcage Disco:

Soooweet! Now our only challenge is to keep the Toast-Powered Levitating Cat from dive-bombing the little critters....

July 7, 2011

Aggie FTW! (Hollywood Book Festival, that is)

Awesome news, Blog...and I couldn't wait to share it! The Hollywood Book Festival just announced the 2011 winners of its book competition, and Aggie's Nine Heroes won honorable mention in the Fiction book category. And they say it was a huge field of competitors this year!

Winners are chosen based on the author's storytelling ability (blush, blush) and the book's deserving  recognition by the film, television, game and multimedia communities.

So far Aggie is one-for-one in book competitions, so let's hope this will encourage more people to find out what makes it such a great book. Hey, don't take the author's word for it...ask the judges! :-)

July 6, 2011

Sometimes I'm cranky especially at dorks like this

Blog, I'm the kind of person who can be livid and no one notices. I just seem way nice all the time, or at least mild-mannered. Nevertheless, I do get really mad, especially at incompetence. And what I call "incompetence" is sometimes stuff that no one else even notices, I'm sure. Here's an example...

I really hate it when people behind the wheel are oblivious to the needs of other drivers around them. Today I experienced a classic example of this during morning rush hour. Here's the scenario, Blog. There was this huge line in the left lane at the stoplight because everyone was needing, one intersection further on, to be on the left to enter the freeway. I decided rather than get in that long queue, what the heck, I would get in the middle lane. I kinda figured I'd be able to merge to the left in the short block before that freeway ramp.

Why did I figure this? Because there's always at least one dork who doesn't move forward. Either....

1. they feel that one must leave three car lengths when going 10 mph, or
2. they are putting on their makeup and need to finish the lipstick before pulling forward, or
3. they just don't watch for the light to change

It's 3 that really irks me. If you are in the all important position of watching for the green light, you owe it to the people behind you to initiate motion ASAP. Your dawdling could cost some person (like me) two minutes on their work time clock if the light goes red before their turn.

So, this morning, natch, there was one of these #3 dorks at the head of the line. Here's your aerial view, Blog:

I am SO glad I didn't get into the left lane.  Here's what happened:

So I got skips over like 25 cars.  And probably saved two sessions of lights worth of time. No harm to the waiting cars, that would have been unused empty space had I not gone ahead.  And who knows, Blog, it might have been my passing and moving into the left lane that tipped off Stupid Red Car to notice the light changed.

I gloated. I only wish there had been a way to transport that car to the end of the line.

People, people...when traffic is heavy and lights are short, get your car through as fast as you safely can. Some may think this is the raving of a Type A personality, but I just think it's courtesy. Right, Blog?

July 3, 2011

The Toast-Powered Cat Levitation Device

Blog, we all know about the mind-blowing paradox of what would happen if you affixed a piece of buttered toast on the back of a cat and then dropped said cat. Because there are two immutable principles in the Universe:

1. A cat always lands on its feet.

2. Toast always lands buttered-side down.

I am not the first to theorize that were you to strap toast to a cat, the only possible result would be that it would remain suspended in the air. Now, what if you were to also contrive headgear for said cat that would allow it, via brainwaves, to control the direction of the contradictory cat/toast forces?

Well, you would undoubtedly get something like this:

Today I built an experimental scale model of the Toast-Powered Cat Levitation Device, including Toast Pack and Control Headgear. Don't tell me this isn't just awesome. In case you are too stunned to believe your own eyes, look again:

Sure enough, it IS real, Blog! In an artificial sort of way! And theoretical! No doubt you are dying to know how you too can make your own T-PCLD, because that is the natural human response to these photos. Never fear, I am here to provide complete directions.

1. The next time you throw away an old calculator, be sure to do as I did: take it apart and save the clear plastic circuitry sheet. Because you just never know, do you? Ditto the weird green bottle top, scraps of aluminum and brass, odd hardware doohickeys, leather lacing, and copper wire.

2. While it is possible to do this with real toast and a real cat, remember you are making a scale model and resist the temptation. Find a cat Beanie Baby and open a seam to remove the beans. (Q: What color are the beans in a Beanie Baby? A: Pearly white. Or as Davie would reply, "Magic.") Replace the beans with fiberfill stuffing, and resew the open seam. You may also want to replace the lame thread whiskers with nice springy ones made from Tiger Tail type beading wire, as I did. And take off the Ty tag, it will interfere with the brain waves.

3. Make a piece of buttered toast from polymer clay. This requires ivory and brown clay, textured with a toothbrush and needles, then painted toasty with brown eyeshadow. Make a nice melty butter pat of light yellow, and be sure to paint the pat with Future for shininess after baking your clay toast.

4. For the Toast Pack, curve the brass sheet around the cat's body. Determine the spot above the cat's body + equipment. Remove sheet from cat and drill a hole at the spot with your Dremel tool. Affix the circuitry sheet with a little Super Glue at the edges. Wrap with the aluminum strip. String colorless thread, doubled, or fishing line through the hole, and tie to a piece of bent wire inside the device. Secure wire and thread with clear packing tape. Mount toast to top of Toast Pack with Gorilla Glue.

5. For the Headgear, curl the wire with round pliers and bend into scientifically appropriate shape. Leave a long end to stick inside bottle top, threading also through weird hardware, which should fit snugly on the bottle top tip. Bend end of wire under head bracket to hold bracked in place against bottle top. Pack inside of bottle top with foil to secure wire in position. Run leather lacing through holes in head bracket, pulling tight to hold bracket snugly against wire and bottle top.

6. Slip the cat, hind legs first, into the Toast Pack. Put Headgear on the cat's head and tie leather lacing to secure. Tie the other end of the colorless thread or fishing line to a strong magnet. Now you can hang the cat from iron or steel objects, or use a large steel washer and pinch a flat mounting object between magnet and washer. It's portable! Of course!

Then let your cat fly and watch the amazing results. Birds beware! Dog, pooh on you! Firemen, no need for those tree rescues! NASA, eat your heart out! Okay, so that was hyperbole.

Blog, don't you love science? It's so exciting.